(Adds Peters quote in last paragraph. A previous update corrected the description of Senate procedure for nominations subject to a hold.)
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A Senate panel voted to advance three Department of Homeland Security nominees, overcoming some Republican concerns over President Joe Biden’s pick for deputy secretary.
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday approved the nominations of Col. John Tien as deputy secretary, Rob Silvers as under secretary for strategy, policy, and plans, and Jonathan Meyer as general counsel.
The nominees, if approved by the full Senate, will join a department that oversees national security, including counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and immigration. Biden has made significant DHS policy shifts since taking office, including phasing out Migrant Protection Protocols, which required asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico until their immigration hearings.
The trio will go a long way toward filling the top ranks at DHS headquarters, where Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has been responding to the influx of migrants at the border and cyber attacks on the government and critical infrastructure.
“These are very highly qualified nominees who bring valuable experience from both the public and private sectors,” Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said. “They are dedicated public servants who are committed to the critical mission of the DHS and understand the challenges that this department faces.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) placed a hold on the nominations until Biden visits the U.S.-Mexico border. Scott’s hold will slow but not block the nominees’ confirmations. Instead of advancing by unanimous consent, Democratic leaders may have to hold procedural votes to limit debate, which require only a simple majority but can take up time on the Senate floor.
Tien faced little pushback during his nomination hearing, but Republicans split in a roll call vote after he wouldn’t say in a conversation with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) whether illegal entry into the U.S. should be enforced as a crime. His nomination was approved by a vote of 10-3.
Tien, in a letter to ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio), clarified his comments, writing, “When individuals enter into the United States through unauthorized means, such entry is in violation of existing law and, in my personal view, should continue to be a violation of the law.”
Hawley said he still couldn’t support him, saying Tien had a “lack of candor” when responding to questions about border crossings.
Tien, a retired U.S. Army colonel and DHS newcomer, would be the No. 2 to Mayorkas. Tien previously described his father’s experience of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in the 1950s after escaping likely persecution from communist China to explain how his personal story colors his views on immigration.
Silvers’s nomination moved through the committee with a 9-4 vote. Silvers previously served as the assistant secretary for cyber policy under the Obama administration, and worked with Mayorkas, who was DHS deputy secretary at the time.
Silvers and panel members focused largely on his ability to address the cyber challenges facing the country during his nomination hearing.
Meyer, the general counsel nominee, received an 8-5 vote. Portman criticized what he called Meyer’s slow and incomplete responses to lawmaker requests while serving as deputy general counsel and senior counselor under former President Barack Obama.
Peters called the three nominees “the exact type of leaders that the department needs.”